The French government's initiative to do away with a paid holiday on Pentecost Monday was met with heavy disapproval from Christians and union members who rallied on the streets in protest of the measure.
The Monday after Pentecost Sunday in France, to celebrate the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on Christians, had been traditionally reserved as a paid holiday. However, the French government had relabeled Monday a Day of Solidarity" and got rid of the paid holiday status in order to raise money for the elderly.
According to the New York Times, many of the main French unions called on workers to strike. In Bordeaux, thousands protested carrying a sign, which said, No to free work," the Times reported.
The Catholic Church said the issue had been badly mismanaged, according to the Sunday Herald. Opinion polls had shown that two-thirds of the population had opposed the new measure.
Across France, public functions in up to 90 cities and towns were disrupted. Many city halls and schools were closed and post offices reduced services because of striking employees. Private companies gave days off to many.
The new government initiative came in response to a 2003 heat wave that killed 15,000 people - most of whom were elderly.
Under the new law, workers would sacrifice one paid-holiday, while employers contribute to the government health fund. About $2.5 billion per year would be raised for healthcare through this sytem, says the Associated Press.